In a bold move that promises to shake up both the personal computing and semiconductor markets, Nvidia has begun making CPUs that use Arm-based core chipsets. Assisted by Microsoft, Nvidia’s new product will run Windows and could be on the market as soon as 2025.
Not to be outdone, AMD, Intel’s main rival in PC CPUs, is also entering the Arm-based PC chip market and may also be ready to sell its chips by 2025.
In 2016, Microsoft granted Qualcomm exclusive rights to make Arm-based chips for “always-on” PC laptops, which are more compact and include cellular connectivity. But that exclusivity agreement expires in 2024. In the lead-up, Microsoft has been encouraging other companies to enter the market.
Because Microsoft envisions AI-enhanced software such as its Copilot platform growing in importance as a part of the Windows user experience, the tech giant is encouraging chipmakers to build advanced AI features into the CPUs they’re developing.
As the market’s leading force in AI chips, Nvidia’s move into PC chips is a direct challenge to Intel’s longtime dominance. However, the firm isn’t new to the Arm infrastructure. Nvidia has previously experimented with Arm-based chips, specifically for data centers, and planned to acquire Arm for $40 billion in 2020 before the deal fell apart early last year.
Microsoft’s assistance is also part of its ongoing efforts to help chip companies challenge Apple and its in-house chips. Apple almost doubled its market share within three years after switching to custom Arm-based chips for its Mac computers.
According to a source quoted by Reuters, “Apple’s custom chips have given Mac computers better battery life and speedy performance that rivals chips that use more energy. Executives at Microsoft have observed how efficient Apple’s Arm-based chips are, including with AI processing, and desire to attain similar performance.”
The performance and energy efficiency of Apple’s in-house Mac chips have proven superior to Intel’s offerings in many ways. Now, Nvidia, AMD, and Qualcomm seek to shake up an industry dominated by Intel but one also coming under increasing pressure from Apple.
Apple’s move from x86 to Arm-based processors represented a huge blow for Intel. Despite remaining the world’s largest vendor of processors based on x86 architecture, Intel stands to lose its exalted status if Nvidia and AMD enter the PC chip market with successful offerings.
Already the undisputed leader in GPU technology, Nvidia achieved a trillion-dollar market valuation by capitalizing on the AI surge with its H-series graphics cards. The firm’s proficiency in AI makes its forthcoming PC offerings an attractive proposition for OEMs who want to expand AI functionality in their newest devices.
Of course, no success is guaranteed if Nvidia and AMD proceed with their current plans to break into the PC market. For example, having invested decades and billions into coding for Windows machines running x86 architecture, developers might not be thrilled about new Arm-based machines that can't seamlessly run existing software.
Intel is also working to stay ahead of the curve by packing AI features into its chips. It recently showcased a laptop boasting AI features similar to ChatGPT directly on the device. This, combined with the convenience of continued x86 support, could make switching to a competitor’s chips more of a hassle than it’s worth.
As the industry braces for the emergence of Arm-based CPUs from Nvidia, AMD, and others, the coming years will undoubtedly feature a struggle between maintaining compatibility with legacy systems and embracing the potential benefits of Arm-based architecture. This moment could be a pivotal juncture in the evolution of personal computing and time will tell which players will come out on top.